With the launch of Sandy Bridge-E and its corresponding Socket 2011, a new line of motherboards has been developed based on the new Intel X79 chipset. What this means for Puget Systems is that we have to look at all the available options to determine which motherboards we want to offer for our customers. While there are many different brands of motherboards available, we at Puget Systems have almost always used Asus motherboards for our desktop systems. We have found them to be highly reliable with just the right mix of features. We've looked at several different motherboards over the weeks leading up to the launch of Sandy Bridge-E and the P9X79 Deluxe jumped out at us as having just the right mix of features and connectivity.
If you would like to review the motherboard specifications before continuing, expand the selection below:
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We will be going over many of these specs in the article, but one thing we want to point out now is the huge amount of RAM that can be installed in this motherboard. There are a total of 8 DDR3 RAM slots (four on either side of the CPU) and each can support up to an 8GB stick. This means that you could install an astounding 64GB of RAM into this motherboard!
Along with the motherboard itself, the following items are included:
A growing trend that thankfully this motherboard is not guilty of, is not including the same number of SATA cables to match the number of SATA ports on the motherboard. This motherboard comes with enough cables to utilize all 8 SATA ports on this motherboard which is a very positive thing in our eyes. Sure, not many users will actually use all 8 SATA ports, but removing the hassle of having to purchase cables separately for those that will is a good move.
Connectivity covers the external ports on the I/O panel, the internal headers, the PCI-E slots on the motherboard, as well as the networking options. Starting with the external and internal ports/headers, let's take a look at what is available on this motherboard:
|USB 2.0||4 Ports||4 Headers (providing 8 ports)|
|USB 3.0||6 Ports||1 Header (providing 2 ports)|
|Audio||7.1 Surround Sound + Optical SPDIF||Headphone/Mic Header|
|E-SATA||2 Powered Ports||-|
|SATA 3Gb/s||-||4 ports (Intel X79 Controller)|
4 ports (2 on Intel X79 Controller,
2 on Marvell 9128 Controller)
|Networking||Dual Gigabit LAN + Wireless + Bluetooth||-|
On the rear I/O panel, this motherboard has an impressive 6 USB 3.0 ports available along with 4 USB 2.0 ports. It's worth noting that the USB 3.0 ports require a driver to function and will not work in the BIOS, so devices such as keyboards and mice that may be needed to make changes to the system's BIOS should always be plugged into the USB 2.0 ports. Internally, there is only a single USB 3.0 header (providing two ports), but 4 USB 2.0 headers (providing 8 ports). This means that this motherboard can provide a total of 12 USB 2.0 ports and 8 USB 3.0 ports. This motherboard does not come with any USB brackets however, so if you want to use any of the internal headers for anything beyond the chassis USB front ports or internal USB devices, you will need to purchase a separate USB bracket.
For the internal SATA connections, there are 4 SATA 3Gb/s and 2 SATA 6Gb/s ports using the Intel X79 chipset. From our testing, these ports have very good performance and reliability. There are another 2 SATA 6Gb/s ports using the Marvell controller, but from our testing, the are not as good in terms of performance or reliability as the Intel ports. For that reason, we only recommend using the Marvell ports if you are using a SATA 6GB/s SSD and the Intel X79 SATA 6Gb/s ports are both already in use. For more information on the differences between SATA controllers, we recommend reading our SATA Controller Performance Explored article.
Moving on to the PCI-E slots, here is a list and picture of the slots available on this motherboard:
The first thing to note is that Asus is officially touting the x16 PCI-E slots as being PCI-E 3.0 compliant. PCI-E 3.0 is not officially supported by Intel at this time, so this is not an official Intel X79 chipset feature. Since there are no PCI-E 3.0 devices available yet (and likely will not be for a while) the PCI-E 3.0 capability is really only useful to those that want to future-proof their system for future upgrades.
While there are 3 full PCI-E x16 slots, the CPU is not able to run them all at full x16 speeds if they are all populated with video cards (3-way SLI for example). A normal SLI system will run at dual x16 speeds, but a 3-way SLI system will run at x16/x8/x8.
Lastly, this motherboard comes with a "BT GO 3.0" wireless/Bluetooth adapter which connects onto a header located near the rear I/O ports on the motherboard. Its a bit odd to not have it pre-installed, but the likely reason behind this is that it is somewhat fragile and may get damaged while the motherboard is in its original product packaging. Once the motherboard is installed into a chassis, there should not be any problems with possible damage to the adapter.
This adapter provides Bluetooth 3.0 support as well as 802.11 b/g/n support. Wifi adapters can at times be very hit and miss in terms of signal strength reception, but this adapter did very well in our signal strength tests. In fact, it has better signal strength reception than even our USB and PCI-E options.
|50ft, line of sight||75ft though 3 walls|
|Asus P9X79 Deluxe||100%||62%|
|Asus P8H67-I Deluxe REV 3.0||86%||52%|
|Asus USB-N13 Wireless 802.11b/g/n USB Adapter||99%||37%|
|Asus PCE-N15 Wireless 802.11b/g/n PCI-E Adapter||84%||74%|
Due to the large number of components on this motherboard (such as the 8 DDR3 RAM slots), you would expect the connectors on this board to feel very cramped. Somehow, this is not the case.
Overall, we are very happy with the placement of almost everything. The USB 2.0 and audio headers are all located along the bottom of the motherboard, which from our experience is an ideal location for cabling. The USB 3.0 is in a bit of a strange location at the center of the right edge of the motherboard, but at least it is still along the edge of the board. In fact, any headers you would want to use on this board are all along the bottom or right edge of the motherboard. The only exception is the CHA_FAN1 header (#4 on the schematic) but that location is actually ideal for connecting to a fan that is installed onto the rear of the chassis.
The power connections are in the standard locations that we have grown accustomed to with the 24-pin ATX power on the right edge of the board and the 8-pin power at the top.
The only placement we do not like is the location of the CMOS battery. There are clear CMOS buttons on both the rear I/O panel as well as one near the internal USB headers (#14 on the schematic), but we have found that sometimes you simply need to pull the battery in order to clear the CMOS. The location of the battery requires you to uninstall your primary GPU (typically installed in the top PCI-E x16 slot) in order to remove the battery. Considering that the clear CMOS switches work 99% of the time however, this is only a minor inconvenience.
In conclusion, there is very little not to like about this motherboard. Many of the new X79 motherboards have a small fan to help cool the chipset, but we have found in the past that those kinds of fans do not last very long and are prone to failure. From our testing, the chipset itself is cooled plenty with the passive heatsink on this motherboard. The only location we found during our testing that could potentially have a heat issue is the MOSFET heatsink located directly above the CPU, but even then the temperatures was well within our acceptable ranges.
We had very few issues setting up and using this motherboard, both in the BIOS and in Windows. The only issue we ran into is that the IRST software that provides additional features for the Intel SATA ports is currently buggy. This is a known issue acknowledged by Asus and should be resolved in the very near future via a driver update. Luckily, this software is not required for normal use of the system so not having it installed does not cause any performance or stability problems with the OS.
Paired with the new Sandy Bridge-E CPU's, this motherboard is a solid core to any system that needs to have a ton of computing power. If you're not sure of exactly what kind of power this motherboard is capable of handling, check out our Product Qualification Article for the Intel Core i7 3960X and 3930K, which used this motherboard during all of our testing.